As a leader, when is the last time that you paused before giving an answer and decided to ask a question instead? If you are like most of us, chances are high that you are in a position where people look to you for answers and, more often than not, you provide them what they want. But what if what they need is not the answer, but someone to ask them different or better questions?
We have been exploring this idea lately of how questions might actually be the answers we are all looking for. From a young age, we are trained to focus on knowing what the answer is but we are so focused on the answers that we often miss the real insights in the questions. Or, even worse, we stop trying to ask better questions because we think that what really matters is just having the answer.
In our research and reading and learning, here is what we have discovered are three results we create when we put our energy into the questions, and not just the answers.
ONE: Focusing on asking better questions pushes us to ask ourselves what we are really trying to figure out
How often have you jumped into a project with the intent to "get the answer", without stopping to ask if you are solving for the right thing? Asking better questions can be as simple as using the 5 why strategy (ask why five times on a topic to drill down to the real why of what you are trying to solve) or tapping into your network and asking them what questions they have about the project or task.
TWO: Asking better questions leads to more innovation in thinking and ideas for adoption and change
One of our favorite results from asking questions, instead of jumping to answers, is that we generate better ideas. When we really spend time on the questions, it prompts innovative thinking, creative brainstorming and also sends the message that probing and questioning is not just allowed, it is welcome and necessary to get the best outcomes. Some of our very best ideas have come from spending 80% of our time on asking questions.
THREE: Asking questions, instead of focusing on having the answers, challenges us to get creative and allow space to think, not just react
This is a really important outcome when you are building teams and helping people develop their leadership. So often in our early stages of leadership, we think we need to have the answers. We believe that we are in the position we are because we have answers. But the best leaders understand that we are most effective when we hold space for thinking, developing, and listening. When we are trying to always have the answers, we tend to be more reactive and less strategic, because we have not created space to hear and process all the information that is available to us.
As you explore the idea of asking questions to get to better answers and outcomes, be prepared for people to be uncomfortable, even feel as though you are questioning their value or contribution, because we have become so conditioned to expect answers over questions. A favorite statement we use often to start the conversation is "I am going to ask a lot of questions and it is not because I am looking for you to have the answers, it is because I think we can create better outcomes through the thinking that happens as a result of using questions to drive our solutions". Telling people the why behind your approach creates transparency, and allows them the space to know it is okay to have more questions than answers.
Here are five simple questions that can help prompt different conversations for you as a leader:
Why? (the simplest of all questions, but often the most powerful!)
Can you tell me more?
Who will be impacted by this?
How would it work?
What are we missing?
We cannot wait to hear how can you use questions to create better outcomes for you and your goals!